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26 Chilling True-Crime Documentaries on Netflix to Watch Right Now

True-crime documentaries are hotter than ever, especially on Netflix. But which are worth watching? We've rounded up the very best.

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The current obsession with true crime

There has never been a time in recorded history when people were not fascinated by stories about the very bad (and very real) things that people do to one another. But interest in true-crime documentaries tends to spike at times when society feels the most “vulnerable,” according to true-crime expert and author Diane Fanning, who helped walk Reader’s Digest through the current true-crime zeitgeist. So it’s not surprising that the pandemic has seen an apparent “revving up” of our collective cultural craving for true-crime documentary programming.

Moreover, the pandemic has landed many people who never before identified as “television watchers” at home in front of their TVs. True-crime expert M. William Phelps, who has authored 45 true-crime books and produced and hosted numerous true-crime television and podcast programs, explains to Reader’s Digest that streaming services such as Netflix have been doing everything they can to satisfy the increased demand for programming. And now, Netflix is more affordable than ever with the new Netflix ads option.

In fact, with the veritable glut of true-crime documentaries that have been streaming of late, it can be tough to know which are worth watching, let alone rise to can’t-miss status. That’s why we decided to investigate which are the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix, the streaming service that currently dominates the true-crime documentary genre.

How we came up with the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix

Because we wanted to base our study of the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix on as broad a swath of empirical evidence as possible, we started off by using Rotten Tomatoes’ “freshness” algorithm to eliminate any program for whom the critical reception amounted to a freshness score below 70. Then we narrowed these down to the top 30 using a combination of professional reviews and viewer comments. Finally, we went back through the list and added in a few that missed the official cut but have, for one reason or another, captivated the public interest. Read on for the best of the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix.

The Confession Killer via netflix.com

The Confession Killer

Release date: 2019

The American serial killer Henry Lee Lucas is as famous for the three murders that he actually committed and was convicted for as he is for the 600 murders that he claimed to have committed during his lifetime. But that dichotomy is only part of what makes the 2019 docuseries, The Confession Killer, so uniquely fascinating. There is also the so-disturbing-it’s-hard-to-look-away notion that for every case that law enforcement closed as a result of Lucas’s false confessions, a murderer was allowed to go free. And then there is the subtext of its reflection on the imperfect American criminal justice system.

The six-episode docuseries makes disquieting use of archival footage of Lucas as he speaks to both the real and the grotesquely imagined crimes he confessed to before he died of natural causes in a Texas prison cell in 2001. The Confession Killer also features commentary from members of law enforcement, lawyers, and journalists, many of whom were eyewitnesses to Lucas’s sadistic, opportunistic, and ultimately tragic storytelling.

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Remastered The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke Ecomm Via Netflix.comvia netflix.com

Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

Release date: 2019

In 1964, the Black singer-songwriter, Sam Cooke, who is sometimes referred to as the “father of modern soul music,” was shot to death at the age of 33. With responsible and thoughtful storytelling that includes generous time and energy spent celebrating Cooke’s life, talents, and unfulfilled aspirations, Remastered is much more than your average documentary about a tragic, inexplicable act of violence. Sam Cooke was more than just a talented musician; he also stood morally opposed to segregation and took issue with performing in segregated venues.

Cooke’s murder has never been solved, and the circumstances surrounding it shine a bright light on a number of racial and civil rights issues that have been coming into clearer focus since the murder of George Flloyd. Even its title (Two Killings) is thought-provoking since it refers to the fact that Cooke lost more than just his life and promising future; he also lost his reputation, thanks to victim-blaming, much of which appears to have been racially motivated.

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Athlete A via netflix.com

Athlete A

Release date: 2020

During his 18-year tenure as team doctor for the USA Gymnastics organization, Dr. Larry Nassar exploited his position of trust and authority to sexually assault hundreds of women and girls who were his patients. In 2016, two women came forward to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the only time that Nassar was charged and convicted.

Athlete A recounts how both brave gymnasts and investigative reporters stood up to Nassar and the “decades-long abusive culture of USA Gymnastics.” What is especially moving about seeing this true-crime documentary now—when the #MeToo movement, which began in 2006, has gone fully viral—is that it takes a walk back in history to a hauntingly recent time when victims of sexual abuse were still routinely discouraged from seeking justice.

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The Tinder Swindler Ecomm Via Netflix.comvia netflix.com

The Tinder Swindler

Release date: 2022

Fair warning: The Tinder Swindler will make you eye your dating app matches with serious caution. It’s about three women trying to find the person who conned them out of money while posing as a wealthy mogul’s son online.

The Tinder Swindler, a hit true-crime documentary for Netflix, has kept the Internet buzzing since its release in February 2022. There’s a wealth of content about it already, from follow-ups with the victims to in-depth discussions about avoiding romance scams. Part of the reason the show is stealing the spotlight is that it’s so compelling. Anyone who’s on a dating app can put themselves in the victims’ shoes as they talk about the love—and betrayal—they felt with this scammer. It’s a cautionary tale of dating in the age of apps that’ll hook you from the very beginning. P.S.—Don’t forget to bookmark these Netflix codes that reveal hidden titles.

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The Confession Tapesvia netflix.com

The Confession Tapes

Release date: 2017 and 2019

The Confession Tapes is different from other true-crime documentaries on Netflix in that it’s not concerned with a single horrific crime or criminal. Rather, it is an 11-part anthology series examining true-crime cases in which law enforcement—in the absence of physical evidence—extracted a confession from a suspect, leading to devastating results not only for the suspects but also for the victims and their families.

“When is a confession not a confession?” The Confession Tapes asks. “When it’s involuntary, coerced, or downright false. Each episode of this anthology series uses interviews with investigators, lawyers, wrongful-conviction experts, and people close to those involved in the cases—as well as footage and/or audio recordings of the suspect’s interactions with law enforcement—to delve into a murder confession that was later accused of being illegally obtained.

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Wild Wild Country via netflix.com

Wild Wild Country

Release date: 2018

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was a spiritual leader with an enormous following when, in 1981, he relocated his commune from India to a ranch outside the tiny town of Antelope, Oregon. Over the next five years, Rajneeshpuram, the ranch that was home to the Rajneesh’s cult, was the center of continuing and escalating conflict with residents of Antelope. Allegations against the ranch and its residents included bioterrorism, election rigging, mass poisonings, illegal firearms possession, and attempted murders of elected government officials and others.

Wild Wild Country is a 2018 six-part true-crime documentary on Netflix that tells the story of the ranch, from the shady circumstances that led to Rajneesh relocating to the United States from India to the demise of the ranch in 1985, when Rajneesh, who was being investigated for immigration fraud, fled via private jet, only to be quickly apprehended by authorities. Rajneesh’s flock quickly and unceremoniously abandoned the ranch but not one another, with many decrying the “lies” told in this true-crime documentary.

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The Keepers via netflix.com

The Keepers

Release date: 2017

This docuseries is a must-see for fans of historic true crime and anyone with an interest in church-related corruption. On November 7, 1969, Cathy Cesnik, a nun who taught Catholic high school in Baltimore, disappeared on her way home from work. Her body was discovered two months later; Cesnik’s killer was never identified. The story faded from the public consciousness almost entirely until the 1990s, when one of Cesnik’s former students came forward to accuse one of the high school’s most influential leaders of sexual abuse, dating back to the time of Cesnik’s murder. Of course, sexual abuse is just the tip of the iceberg in this seven-part true-crime documentary series.

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Bikram Yogi Guru Predatorvia netflix.com

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

Release date: 2019

This documentary about Bikram Choudhury of hot yoga fame tells the tale of an idol with clay feet. Through interviews with Choudhury’s former students, it becomes apparent that he was a master manipulator whose abuses varied depending on who he had in his crosshairs at any given moment and what he was trying to separate them from: their money, their physical safety, or their dignity. Bikram exposes the corrupt systems that enabled Choudhury to exploit his position as both spiritual leader and boss of a multimillion-dollar business (in its heyday) that churned out yoga teachers while crushing souls.

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The Staircase via netflix.com

The Staircase

Release date: 2018

When Kathleen Peterson, wife of novelist Michael Peterson, died in 2001 as a result of a fall down a staircase in the home the couple shared, it quickly became apparent that this was not a freak accident. In fact, it looked an awful lot like Kathleen had died of blunt force trauma administered by none other than her husband. The first eight episodes of the true-crime documentary The Staircase, which first aired in 2005, follow Peterson’s arrest, trial, and conviction. The story picks back up with five new episodes, shot between 2013 and 2018, that examine new evidence that came to light.

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Fyre The Greatest Party That Never Happened via netflix.com

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

Release date: 2019

The Fyre Festival was a concept for a destination luxury musical festival dreamed up by music producer Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland. It was ill-conceived from the start and so poorly planned that every music act canceled and the accommodations were nothing more than disaster-relief tents. Regardless of the organizers’ intentions—whatever they were—the epic failure of the festival eventually rose to the level of criminal fraud. Produced in the aftermath of the trial against McFarland that resulted in his conviction of wire fraud, this documentary provides an inside look at the dangers of wealth.

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Sophie A Murder In West Cork via netflix.com

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork

Release date: 2021

It was December 1996 when Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a 39-year-old French film producer, was found bludgeoned to death, clad only in pajamas, outside her vacation home in a remote, picturesque village in West Cork, Ireland. The murder was only resolved in 2019—or not, depending on whether you abide by the laws of Ireland or France. It’s not the only documentary delving into the du Plantier case, but it is the only one that was made with the cooperation of du Plantier’s family, which gives it an enormous amount of credibility.

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The Devil Next Door via netflix.com

The Devil Next Door

Release date: 2019

Born in 1920, John Demjanjuk was raised in Soviet Russia before becoming a German POW in the 1940s and emigrating to the United States in 1952. All seemed copacetic until 1977, when the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into allegations that, while in Germany, Demjanjuk had been a Nazi known as Ivan the Terrible, who supplied lethal gas to Nazi death camps. Demjanjuk spent the rest of his life fighting the allegations, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, until his death in prison in 2012, while awaiting an appeal.

The Devil Next Door cannot say for sure whether Demjanjuk was a heinous war criminal with any greater authority than 35 years of international legal battles could. But with extensive archival footage from Demjanjuk’s trials as well as from concentration camps, and numerous interviews with prosecutors, academics, and Demjanjuk’s family, this gripping documentary challenges viewers to ask some even bigger questions.

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The Pharmacistvia netflix.com

The Pharmacist

Release date: 2020

Danny Schneider was an aimless “good kid” when he was shot in the driver’s seat of his SUV while stopped in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to purchase crack in 1999. The documentary’s seemingly ironic title refers to Danny’s father, Dan Schneider, a pharmacist who had no reason to believe his son was an addict with ties to dangerous drug culture. It was his search for his son’s killer that opened his eyes to Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid epidemic. This four-part documentary is a compelling “little guy against the world” story, in which one man’s personal tragedy morphs into a crusade against the wealthy executives who helped turn Big Pharma into its own cottage industry for drug addiction.

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Murder Among The Mormons via netflix.com

Murder Among the Mormons

Release date: 2021

Mark Hoffman was a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints who presented church leaders with fantastical documents that threatened to “change everything” pertaining to the Mormon Church. As this true-crime documentary reveals, however, those documents turned out to be forged—and to prevent the truth from coming out, Hoffman built a bomb that killed one of his accusers. Then he built another that killed someone ostensibly unrelated to Hoffman’s initial crime. Then he turned up at the hospital, alleging that he had been injured by the detonation of an explosive. This story of the genesis of the three bombings, their impact, and Hoffman’s eventual apprehension and trial is both complex and riveting.

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Operation Varsity Blues The College Admissions Scandalvia netflix.com

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

Release date: 2021

You probably already know at least some of the story that Operation Varsity Blues sets out to illuminate: Some seriously connected, absurdly rich White parents gamed the college admissions system to get their children into institutions of higher learning that they could never have gotten into on their own merits.

As the story unfolds, a question emerges: To what extent did some of the 750 families who padded their children’s college applications fully understand the fraud that was being perpetrated or the far-reaching consequences of defrauding the college admissions process? While there is a tendency to blame ruthlessly competitive parenting and malignant entitlement, this documentary, employing dramatic re-enactments along with interviews, purports that the center of the operation was Rick Singer, a charismatic and seemingly remorseless evil genius.

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Night Stalker The Hunt For A Serial Killervia netflix.com

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

Release date: 2021

This true-crime documentary traces the exploits of serial killer, rapist, and kidnapper Richard Ramirez during the mid-1980s in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, and the members of law enforcement who worked tirelessly to apprehend him.

This thrilling case was particularly challenging to crack because Ramirez’s criminal behavior was seemingly random, lacking an obvious pattern. Told through archival footage, photos, and interviews, Night Stalker‘s narrative depicts the maddening efforts of one newbie detective, Gil Carillo, to convince his more experienced partner (Frank Salerno), other members of law enforcement, and the media that a seemingly unrelated series of violent crimes were all committed by one person. The four-part documentary series is an emotionally satisfying narrative.

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American Murder The Family Next Door Ecomm Via Netflix.comvia netflix.com

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Release date: 2020

The Watts family was, to all outward appearances, a happy, normal family—as evidenced in their numerous social media posts. That is, until 2018, when pregnant Shanann and her two young daughters went missing. Chris, the handsome and charming husband and father, quickly became the prime suspect. He participated in the investigation at first, only to be arrested and later convicted of the triple murder. Made with the cooperation of Shanann’s family, this emotional documentary is told with firsthand footage, illustrating how easily a curated online social media presence is able to hide a darker reality of abuse, manipulation, and murder.

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Trial By Media via netflix.com

Trial by Media

Release date: 2020

Trial By Media explores six different crimes that were inextricably intertwined with their treatment by the media from start to finish. You’re probably already familiar with most, if not all, of the cases, which itself speaks to the effects of the considerable media attention. These include the murder of a young man following his appearance on The Jenny Jones Show, the shooting by police officers of Amadou Diallo, and the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who took it upon himself to amp up the media coverage and appeared on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice.

Trial by Media arms the viewer with a lot of information and raises a lot of questions in the process, many of which are left to viewers to adjudicate themselves. That’s one of the reasons that some reviewers have concluded that the stories here would have been better told in a single chapter

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Making A Murderer via netflix.com

Making a Murderer

Release date: 2015 and 2018

After spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Steven Avery tried to put his life back together. But not two years later, he was arrested and later convicted of the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. The first season of Making a Murderer delves into that case, along with the hypothesis that it was the justice system that had turned Avery into a murderer. Its second season, released three years later, focuses on Avery’s initially successful appeal in Halbach’s murder and how the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld his conviction and denied a review.

Making a Murderer was certainly not the first true-crime documentary to hit it big on Netflix, but it is arguably the mother in the Age of the True-Crime Documentary on Netflix, having been picked up by the streamer after a series of rejections by the major networks. The mere existence of its second season is evidence of not only the success of the first but also the fact that Avery’s fate may still be a function of the flaws in the justice system that he and the producers of this documentary were aiming to expose in the first place.

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Jeffrey Epstein Filthy Richvia netflix.com

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

Release date: 2020

Jeffrey Epstein was a Gatsby-like figure with powerful friends and associates and a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands on which he entertained them. As it was revealed in 2019, following Epstein’s arrest by federal authorities, the island was low-key known as Pedophile Island, and Epstein’s network of friends and associates were starting to look less like golfing buddies and more like coconspirators.

Epstein died under suspicious circumstances in a jail cell in August 2019. But by that time, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, was already in the works as a documentary and had been for nine months, albeit with great stealth, thanks to the cooperation of its producers and participants. Much of the story is told by people who survived the abuses perpetrated by Epstein. Although Epstein can’t tell his side of the story, the main thrust of the four-part docuseries is less about whether Epstein did wrong than it is about how money and power helped these wrongs to continue unchecked.

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Amanda Know via netflix.com

Amanda Knox

Release date: 2016

Meredith Kercher was a 21-year-old British college student studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, when someone slit her throat and left her to bleed out in the house she was sharing with two Italian roommates and a 20-year-old American named Amanda Knox. Knox was the one who found Kercher’s body and called the police. It quickly became apparent to law enforcement that Knox and her boyfriend, Raffael Sollecito, were responsible. Except they weren’t. After being convicted twice, Knox and her boyfriend were acquitted, and in a separate trial, a man named Rudy Guede, whose DNA had been found at the crime scene, was eventually convicted.

After multiple trials and intensive media coverage, most of the story has been told over and over again. What the Amanda Knox true-crime documentary on Netflix delivers is not a reiteration of all of that so much as a disturbing look at the way the “media and Italian law enforcement fed into each other” to construct a “bizarre—and very likely false—story behind Kercher’s murder,” reports Rolling Stone.

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The Rippervia netflix.com

The Ripper

Release date: 2020

Netflix’s four-part documentary series The Ripper chronicles the biggest manhunt in British history, which focuses on the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 female sex workers in Northern England between 1975 and 1980. The Ripper name was an invention of journalists who noticed similarities between these murders—and their terrifying impact on society—and those of the previous century’s murders by the never-apprehended, never-identified Jack the Ripper. The highly evocative Ripper will appeal to all true-crime buffs but especially those who gravitate toward historical mysteries because of its focus on the Ripper’s crimes during the 1970s, an era of radical change.

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This Is A Robbery The Worlds Biggest Art Heist via netflix.com

This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist

Release date: 2021

This Netflix true-crime documentary recalls the biggest and most notoriously unsolved art heist in history: the 1990 theft of millions of dollars worth of artwork—by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, Degas, and other historical art world luminaries—from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Although the crime itself bears the clear signs of an inside job, This is a Robbery makes a strong case for it being an enormously complicated multiplayer production sponsored by organized crime.

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The Innocent Man via netflix.com

The Innocent Man

Release date: 2018

The “innocent man” at the center of this 2018 six-part true-crime documentary on Netflix is Ron Williamson, who had been wrongfully convicted of the murder of a young woman and served 11 years of his death-row prison sentence before being exonerated through DNA evidence. The story caught the attention of author John Grisham, who went on to turn it into the 2006 true crime book The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. If you’re a fan of Grisham’s work, you’ll want to watch this docuseries, which he executive produced. Using interviews with friends and family members of the victim, lawyers, reporters, and Grisham himself, it methodically recounts the murder, the miscarriages of justice, the prison system’s inadequate handling of mental illness in its population, and the eventual solving of the crime five days before Williamson was scheduled to be executed.

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Why Did You Kill Me via netflix.com

Why Did You Kill Me?

Release date: 2021

What the first-person title refers to is the fact that, in the wake of the 2006 murder of her daughter, Belinda Lane took to catfishing on social media in a desperate attempt to figure out who was responsible. Her daughter, Los Angeles resident Crystal Theobald, a 24-year-old mother of two, was shot at point-blank range while sitting in her car at an intersection. It had all the trappings of an organized assassination.

Two MySpace accounts and a decade later, Lane’s catfishing yielded a break in the case. The shooter, among others, was convicted. But in a tragic twist to an already tragic story, the police believe Theobald was not the intended target and may have been killed in a case of mistaken identity.

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Interview With A Serial Killervia netflix.com

Interview with a Serial Killer

Release date: 2008

Arthur Shawcross was convicted of the 1972 murders of two children in his hometown in upstate New York and served nearly 15 years of his life sentence before being paroled. That was when the man who came to be known as the Genessee River Killer really got busy—in this case, killing at least 14 prostitutes. This chilling 2008 documentary consists of footage of an actual prison interview with Shawcross, interspersed with footage from interviews with law enforcement and family members.

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Next, check out the best history documentaries to stream right now.

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Sources:

  • Diane Fanning, true crime expert
  • M. William Phelps, investigative journalist, true crime author, and producer and host of numerous true-crime television and podcast programs
  • Letterboxd: “Interview with a Serial Killer”

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.